Sale Creek High School already had made the decision to start playing varsity football in 2013. Friday morning the school got some news that could mean having its own field as early as 2014.
Hamilton County Commissioner Fred Skillern and County Mayor Jim Coppinger came to the school to make their announcements. Skillern is providing $50,000 for the field from a combination of discretionary money each commissioner can designate for community projects and the travel-expense allotment he never uses.
"And we are going to respond in kind," Coppinger said of his executive branch, "by helping with grading and other aspects of property preparation.
"This is a great opportunity for general government to partner for something that is much needed in the community."
Said Sale Creek principal Tobin Davidson with a wide smile: "And we are going to be very appreciative of it."
Skillern, who was on the school board for two decades before being elected a commissioner, has a history of helping schools in the northern part of the county on projects that can't receive general funds from the school system's budget.
Sale Creek's planned field is in a tract of land already owned by the county for the school system. It includes North Hamilton County Elementary School and the parcel that Skillern said is tentatively planned for a future Sale Creek High School with the current campus remaining a middle school.
Access to the football field would be by turning right off Industrial Boulevard before reaching the elementary school, beginning on a road that goes now to a facility of the Union Fork-Bakewell Utility Co. As Coppinger pointed out, the field's lights would be enticingly visible across the railroad tracks from Highway 27.
"It's a beautiful piece of property," said Ron Cox, the Sequoyah High School teacher and ARCA race driver who is the Sale Creek football coach. His masonry students at Sequoyah would provide some of the work for temporary bleachers before a stadium can be built, as they have been doing at Sale Creek's softball field.
"Our parents and community are already working on raising money," Davidson said, "but we think that when everybody sees we're not just talking about football but we're serious, they're going to get even more behind it."
Sale Creek already began middle school football, and Skillern designated $8,000 for equipment in that start-up. The middle schoolers have been playing home games at Soddy-Daisy Middle.
Hixson High has agreed for at least one home game this coming season for the Sale Creek High team, and talks about others are in the works. The Panthers get to make their varsity debut against state power South Pittsburg, and Cox admitted he would love to play that one at Finley Stadium.
He will have a junior varsity program as well as the varsity team this year. The original plan was for JV play only in 2013, but this begins a two-year scheduling cycle for the TSSAA and Sale Creek had to pick between two years of JV only or varsity right away. By the time that decision had to be made, Cox had met with a group of 2013-14 seniors who said they wanted to be part of the program, even as a scout team, so 14 of them are part of the 52 he's expecting for the May 7 start of spring practice.
Sale Creek's quarterback club has sold T-shirts, candy and discount cards and is planning a golf tournament for July to raise money for uniforms and equipment for the 2013 team.
Getting a field built in the next year and a half won't be easy, Davidson admitted, but it's at least possible with the county leaders' help.
"It's a dream for 2014," he said.